FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FRIDAY, DEC. 13, 2002
Contact: J. Kent Messick
Field Services Section Chief, Agronomic Division
Agronomic advice and testing an asset for high-value crops
REIDSVILLE—Sammy Manuel grew tobacco, hay and pasture in Rockingham County for 26 years before he decided to branch out into alternative crops.
"I had lots of experience," Manuel said, "but I didn’t think I needed education to be a farmer until I tried to grow strawberries and tomatoes. Over the last four years, I’ve learned a lot about taking tissue samples."
Manuel met Tim Hambrick, a regional agronomist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, four years ago. Hambrick advised Manuel on how to fertilize his crops and explained the advantages of taking plant tissue samples when growing high-value crops like strawberries.
"Most crops that are started in a greenhouse require expensive inputs and intense management," Hambrick said. "Growers need to do everything possible to make sure they get a return on their investment. Tissue testing on a regular basis is an excellent tool to help optimize plant nutrition, minimize fertilizer costs, and produce quality plants."
"He made a believer out of me," Manuel said. "It’s definitely important."
Manuel started growing strawberries seven years ago. For the last three years, he has grown his own plants in a 35-foot-by-250-foot greenhouse. With Hambrick’s guidance, he learned how to monitor his crop’s nutrient status by taking four to six plant tissue samples throughout the growing season and sending them to the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division laboratory.
"With tissue analysis, I can find out which nutrients my crop needs and which it doesn’t. I apply the right amount of fertilizer, save money and have quality fruit," Manuel said.
"Sammy does a good job with his berries," Hambrick said. "He doesn’t want to guess when it comes to nitrogen rates. If berries are too high in nitrogen, they hold more water and tend to bruise and mold more easily. They just don’t last long and are not as sweet. But when Sammy’s fruit is ready, people line up on this road to buy it."
Tissue testing has not only given Manuel quality produce, it has also improved the efficiency of his operation. He started out planting seven acres of berries but was having trouble managing that much so he cut back to five acres. It wasn’t long though before he was harvesting as many berries on five acres as he had on seven and making a profit because his labor and fertilizer costs were lower for five acres.
Although Manuel had used the NCDA&CS soil testing service for years, tissue testing was a new experience for him. Now it is a routine part of his strawberry and tomato production plans. Each year he collects more than 50 soil samples from his nearly 350-acre farm and about a dozen tissue samples from strawberries and tomatoes.
Hambrick and Manuel consult at least once every two weeks during the growing season. "It’s gratifying to work with people who are really interested," Hambrick said. "That’s why Sammy could go from seven acres of strawberries to five and improve his operation. He uses tissue analysis to grow good berries, he knows how to market, he manages with limited labor, and he knows which are his money crops."
The NCDA&CS Agronomic Division’s Field Services section offers advice and assistance in all aspects of crop nutrient management and agronomic testing, including soil testing, nematode assay, and plant, waste or solution analysis. Growers in Alleghany, Forsyth, Guilford, Rockingham, Stokes or Surry counties should contact Tim Hambrick. Growers in other North Carolina counties who would like advice on crop nutrition can visit www.ncagr.com/agronomi/rahome.htm or contact Kent Messick at (919) 733-2655 for the name of their local regional agronomist.